SAN ANTONIO – The 60-day contract that turned Freeman Coliseum’s Expo Hall into a shelter for migrant children is set to expire on May 30, which means time is ticking for families to be reunited.
As of Tuesday, officials reported 1,934 young boys, ages 13-17, were housed at the facility.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials reported that 13 of the boys had been reunited with family members or sponsors in the U.S.
“We’re working as hard as possible to unify as many youth as possible in the next month,” said Kathy Crosby, a spokeswoman for HHS.
Crosby said that any of the boys who have not been placed with a sponsor by then will be moved to another emergency intake center while the reunification process continues.
According to Crosby, those not reunited with their family will be taken to a long-term facility or placed in the foster care system. She said 438 boys are waiting to be reunited with parents or legal guardians in the U.S. and 238 boys who have no one.
Crosby said the Office of Refugee Resettlement has a toll-free number and a resource page for families or sponsors looking for their children or who have already been reunited.
According to Crosby, HHS ramped up its hiring and training of case managers to handle the surge. Congressman Henry Cuellar says that the change was needed.
“We are looking at providing more case managers so they can try to move the kids out,” Cuellar said.
However, immigration attorney Lance Curtright said adding more case managers does not address other hurdles in the reunification process.
Curtright said an agreement during the Trump administration, terminated last month, meant undocumented sponsors were given notices to appear before an immigration judge for deportation.
“So, obviously, that had a great chilling effect on people coming and asking for the child’s custody,” Curtright said.
Although the agreement is no longer in effect under the Biden administration, he said, “The fears linger and the distrust continues.”
Curtright said reunifying many of the children at the Expo Hal also will be much more difficult under Title 42, the Trump administration policy implemented after the pandemic began, sharply criticized by human rights advocates.
He said President Biden has allowed the policy to stand, forcing parents who cannot enter the U.S. due to Title 42 to send their children by themselves, a decision often made after they arrive at the border.
“If their parents are in Mexico, then there’s no one here to claim custody of them,” Curtright said.